Over the past few years, recreational catch estimates-particularly for pulse fisheries, such as red snapper, and species rarely encountered through the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) -have been contested by anglers and charterboat captains. There is an apparent disconnect between individual experiences on the water and the coast-wide picture of recreational fishing developed by MRIP, which sometimes leads anglers to question the MRIP process, the estimates MRIP generates, and the stock assessments and management decisions based (in part) on these data.

MRIP uses a survey-based methodology to calculate total recreational catch by combining fishing effort data and catch data collected from the recreational sector (including shore, private boat, and for-hire modes). The catch data for all three modes are collected using the state-conducted Access Point Angler Intercept Survey (APAIS), while effort data are collected from the shore and private boat modes via the new Fishing Effort Survey and from the for-hire mode using the For-hire Telephone Survey.  This MRIP process was designed to estimate recreational catch annually, and herein lies the challenge for fisheries managers: the MRIP surveys are not well equipped to capture data for rare event and pulse fisheries, yet, in some jurisdictions, they are the only sources of recreational data available.

To address this, some of ACCSP’s partners conduct other recreational data collection components in their own jurisdictions to supplement the federal catch estimates, focusing largely on the for-hire sector. South Carolina, for example, has its own mandatory for-hire logbook program that requires for-hire captains submit trip reports on a monthly basis. By capturing data from more fishing trips, census reporting offers the potential to produce datasets that better capture pulse fisheries and rare event species.

Smaller and more easily regulated than its shore and private boat counterparts, the for-hire industry is the proverbial low-hanging fruit for improving recreational data. And because for-hire captains have a vested interest in the accuracy of catch estimates, requests for improvement have often come from within the industry.  Many for-hire captains have actually requested moving to census-style (trip) reporting in hopes that this will improve catch estimates.

For-Hire Reporting and eTrips/Mobile
With the advent of electronic reporting technologies, census reporting has become a viable data collection option for the for-hire industry.  Recently, both the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils pursued regulations to implement mandatory electronic trip reporting (or census) in the for-hire sector. In 2017, MAFMC finalized a rule requiring mandatory electronic reporting in for-hire fisheries for for-hire vessels with MAFMC species permits, effective March of 2018.  A similar rule for the SAFMC is currently open for public comment in the Federal Register.

Over the past two years, ACCSP has worked closely with the councils, NOAA Fisheries, and our state partners to ensure that a well thought out and user-centered reporting solution would be available to support for-hire electronic trip reporting and that the captains would be prepared to use it. eTrips/Mobile, our tablet-based trip reporting tool, and eTrips/Online, its online companion, have been certified for submission of for-hire and recreational federal trip reports to NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region (GARFO).

Following an ACCSP-funded pilot project conducted by the SAFMC, modifications were made to eTrips/Mobile to render the application suitable for for-hire reporting in the South Atlantic. Captains with SAFMC permits will be able to use eTrips/M to submit their for-hire trip reports to SERO after the SAFMC’s for-hire electronic trip reporting mandate goes into effect.

ACCSP worked with its software developer, Harbor Light Software, and both councils to coordinate eVTR software instruction for captains. For those interested in using eTrips/M or eTrips/Online, ACCSP provided step-by-step user tutorials and worked with state partners to set up user accounts. This allowed captains to begin their electronic reporting immediately following the workshop.

Additional support, including user tutorials and FAQs, can be found on ACCSP’s website. ACCSP has also created a 24-hour helpdesk for any fishermen reporting via SAFIS, which can be reached at 1-800-984-0810.

Validation and Data Use
So how will the self-reported for-hire data be used? The GARFO for-hire trip reports’ effort data are already being integrated into the MRIP estimates, and that approach may be available to the South Atlantic upon MRIP approval.

The for-hire industry and partner agencies have also expressed interest in using the mandatory for-hire trip reports’ catch data in MRIP estimates as well. Before this can occur, issues associated with accommodating concurrent for-hire reporting scenarios and validating self-reported data must be addressed.

Because the MAFMC and SAFMC mandates only apply to for-hire vessels with federal species permits, state for-hire vessels that are not required to submit reports or logbooks under some other regulation will need to be accommodated. Differences in the reporting timelines further complicate data integration.

Method(s) for validating self-reported data must also be developed. South Carolina recently conducted a project to develop and evaluate a method for logbook validation using dockside intercepts conducted through APAIS. The project demonstrated that matching APAIS intercepts to charter logbooks for validation is a viable option, but the method needs further refinement and certification by MRIP before the catch data from logbooks can be integrated into MRIP estimates.

Addressing these two challenges may take a few years and having the logbooks to evaluate the best approach is a critical part of the process. Until then, MRIP for-hire catch estimates will continue to use catch observed through APAIS dockside intercepts and effort both from the For-Hire Telephone Survey and the federal for-hire VTRs.

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